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Early Stage Innovation - Managing the Unmanageable

Management of the Fuzzy Front End of Innovation


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The crucial importance of innovation was underlined recently when Harvard’s Professor Clayton Christensen was named as No.1 at the prestigious biannual Thinkers50 Awards for the second time running. Christensen the architect of ‘disruptive innovation’, famously explained why management practices that established companies as industry leaders also makes it hard for them to develop the disruptive technologies that ultimately steal away their markets.

To stay ahead in our fast changing world, particularly as we come out of recession, companies need to develop new technologies, products, services, and new business models, and to do this innovation is the key.

Unfortunately in the ‘real world’ many mangers feel unnerved by innovation, at least in its early stages, conjuring up images of laid-back millennials ‘brain-storming’ around a pool table, and feeling apprehensive about costs and accountability. Neuroscience tells us that the creative mind needs space to flourish, but for a tightly managed, budget conscious, organization how is this possible? In its later stages data analysis and market testing have their part to play, but at the front end of innovation the process is necessarily ‘fuzzy’ and to the worried manager apparently unmanageable.

In fact managing the fuzzy front end of innovation is one of the most important leadership roles. This insightful new book offers some essential guidance. It comes from two senior academics who have been studying the topic for many years: Oliver Gassmann, Professor of Innovation Management and Head of the Board of Directors of the Institute of Technology Management at the University of St. Gallen, and Fiona Schweitzer, Professor of Marketing on Innovation and Product Management Program at the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria in Wels.

Highlighting the importance of the front end in the innovation process, Professor Gassmann says “CEOs consider innovation as vital. Management prefers to address the late phase of innovation, despite knowing that the leverages are in the early phase. This is similar to the drunken man who loses his keys in the street and look for them only under the streetlamp, where it is brightest.”

The editors bring together a number of leading experts whose conceptual analysis is helpfully supported by practical advice for managersand is enriched by the inclusion of a series of case studies from companies that have successfully managed the fuzzy front end of innovation; companies such as 3M, ABB, Bayer, BMW, Google Ventures, IBM, etc.

The book looks at some traditional instruments and processes for managing innovation such as technology monitoring, market-oriented research management, lead-user developments, then also considers modern approaches such as frontloading, user community-driven innovation, crowdsourcing, anthropological expeditions, technological listening posts in global R&D settings, cross-industry innovation processes, open innovation, and IP cycle management.

This book is far from being a fuzzy academic treatise. Rather it is a serious practical guide to one of the corporate world’s most pressing management issues.

Management of the Fuzzy Front End of Innovation, Editors: Oliver Gassmann and Fiona Schweitzer. Published by Springer, 2014, ISBN 978-3-319-01056-4

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